We May Never Be Empty-Nesters


It’s so quiet in the house these days that it’s almost difficult to remember when we were a noisy family of six all living under one roof. For more than 20 years, the daily goal was to achieve a smooth, coordinated effort of baths, schools, and social schedules. When I wasn’t in the driver’s seat of a mini-van, I was either focused on feeding someone or doing laundry. I did a lot of laundry.

We still consider ourselves a family of six, but three of our children are “grown and flown.” One’s away in his senior year of college, with plans to go on to grad school elsewhere. The other two recently moved out to share an apartment across town. Unlike our peers, however, my husband and I may never be empty-nesters. We still have our oldest daughter, who has Down syndrome, living at home.

It’s tempting to be envious of friends who can now drop and go at a moment’s notice for dinner with friends or quick get-aways. They’re embracing the spontaneity that’s possible at our age, when you no longer have to be concerned with sitters, or worried if your teenagers are making good decisions. “Go when you want, come home when you want” sounds deliciously selfish and free.

Still, I accepted when our daughter was a baby that she would probably always live with us, and to be fair, having her with me has been my preference. I can fulfill my role as her advocate and protector best when she’s under my wing. When she transitioned from school to a well-established vocational program, I forced myself to accept the idea that she might want to move out someday, either utilizing Supported Independent Living or living in a group home among her coworkers and friends. She doesn’t often self-advocate, but when she does, I try hard to extend the same respect to her that I have for my other adult children. She has the right to make informed decisions about her life too.

family selfie in paris

Neither of those living options appeals to her. Well, they didn’t appeal as long as at least one of her siblings was asleep in a room down the hall from hers. Living with just Mom and Dad may eventually prove too boring. And as her siblings become more established in their own homes, she may want her own home too. I’d be lying if I said I don’t have wildly conflicting feelings about her living elsewhere. It’s not easy letting go of any of them, but her least of all.

For now, though, she wants to live at home, and as it turns out, I don’t really want to be deliciously selfish and free. I’d rather keep awakening to happy chatter over what the new day holds, topics that might seem inconsequential but are important to her. I delight in her silliness and laughter, and I treasure the opportunity to follow her lead in recognizing beauty in unusual places, like the pale yellow yolk of her hard boiled egg at breakfast. She complimented me this morning on doing a good job boiling the egg; you don’t get that kind of self-affirmation anywhere else. In an overly-complicated world, she provides daily reminders of simple joys.

For now, we are snug and cozy here in our three-person nest.

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